This article is originally written in Spanish and has not been translated by a professional. There may be some errors.
During the last weeks of March, the case of Beatriz against the State of El Salvador in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR Court) united the Latin American movement in favour of the right to health, a life with dignity, and access to sexual and reproductive health for women, girls and adolescents. Activists, collectives and various organisations followed the case and filled the streets with cries of hope in Costa Rica, where the hearing was held. This case was also accompanied by a virtual tidal wave - in almost all the countries of the region, #JusticiaParaBeatriz topped the lists of trending lists on various social networks and reached the pages of the largest digital media in Latin America.
Who was Beatriz and how can her story change the reality for girls, adolescents and women in the region?
Beatriz was a young woman with lupus living in poverty in rural El Salvador. At the age of 19, Beatriz had her first pregnancy from which she suffered health complications that resulted in anaemia and aggravated her lupus. A year later, in 2013, she had a second pregnancy that was diagnosed as high risk, both for her and for the foetus, s and it was determined that the foetus had no chance of living outside of the womb because the foetus lacked a skull and a brain. According to medical recommendations, Beatriz had to terminate her pregnancy; however, the State of El Salvador refused to do so, despite the circumstances. Beatriz died shortly afterwards in an accident from which she did not recover due to her fragile health. Beatriz was denied timely medical attention and the right to decide for her life.
El Salvador, as in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname, has an absolute ban on abortion in any circumstances. In addition, the country has alarming figures for other violations of women's rights.
According to the Observatory of Gender Violence of the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), in 2021 this country registered at least 2,570 cases of sexual violence in girls and adolescents from 0 to 17 years old, 5,975 pregnancies in girls and adolescents between 9 to 17 years, where 69% of them come from rural areas, and 425 suffered spontaneous abortions due to obstetric complications, where more than 50% live in cantons or communities in conditions of poverty.
In a region like Latin America and the Caribbean, where the adolescent pregnancy rate is the second highest in the world, women and girls not only have their right to health conditioned, but they also have limited access to live a dignified and healthy life. The physical effects of early pregnancies are already known; The World Health Organisation has stated that pregnant adolescents (10 to 19 years) have a higher risk of preeclampsia, endometritis, and systemic infections compared than women aged 20 to 24.
Why do we have to talk about this case? Early and forced child marriages and unions and unwanted pregnancies
At Girls Not Brides, we believe that these restrictions on the health of girls and adolescents are closely related to Child, Early and Forced Marriages and Unions (CEFMU). The absolute criminalisation of termination of pregnancy contributes to increased conditions of inequality, violence and lack of opportunities, that result in 21% of women marrying or entering a union before the age of 18 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the case of El Salvador, this figure reaches 26% and increases to 60% for women who do not have access to primary education.
Adolescent pregnancies can be cause and consequence of child, early and forced marriages and unions, since in conservative contexts in relation to the exercise of sexuality, marriage or union are considered a "solution" to preserve the "honour of the family” or as a way of coping with the economic and social consequences of said pregnancy.
In addition to endangering the health and physical and emotional integrity of girls and adolescents, adolescent pregnancies limit their life plans and increase the burden of care work, which in turn increases their economic dependence and makes them vulnerable to other forms of violence within the home. In these cases, guaranteeing access to comprehensive sexuality education, and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for girls and adolescents contributes to generating more and better opportunities for them. The absolute decriminalisation of abortion offers an alternative when everything else has failed girls and adolescents in relation to their safety, sexual health and exercising of freedom over their bodies.
#JusticiaParaBeatriz is a case of Social Justice
It has become evidence that the approval of punitive policies limits the right that all women have to a dignified life, and control over their bodies and life projects. They also do not eliminate the practice of abortion, but do limit access to this service in extreme conditions.
The arrival of Beatriz's case to the Inter-American Court provides an opportunity to address the shortcomings of a structural system that does not guarantee girls, adolescents and women the exercise of their rights and the design of public policies that contemplate access to abortion as a health service free of discrimination and violence. This mainly affects girls, adolescents, and young women in situations of poverty and marginalisation, leading them to experience unwanted pregnancies or child, early, or forced marriages or unions; and further deepening inequality, impoverishment and violence.
Ensuring justice for Beatriz means doing justice for all girls, adolescents, and women in El Salvador and the region, especially those that are underserved, those who lack economic resources or are marginalised and/or vulnerable.
The case of Beatriz against the State of El Salvador highlights how the absolute prohibition of abortion mainly affects women living in conditions of vulnerability and poverty. Access to safe abortions is further complicated in rural contexts, as well as in populations of indigenous or Afro-descendant origin, in addition to other circumstances such as exclusion of girls and adolescents from education, as well as deficiencies in access to health services.
It also represents an opportunity to reverse the adoption of punitive legislation that deepens inequalities in women and girls, and that criminalises those who decide to live and decide for their health and life. At this time, it is in the hands of the judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to guarantee the recognition of all girls, women, and adolescents as persons subject to rights, by allowing them to exercise their rights in conditions of autonomy and freedom.
"Beatriz is the representation of the realities of many women in the region, where it is hoped that the resolution of this sentence will ensure that no woman has to experience the cruelty, uncertainty and torture that she (Beatriz) experienced."Irma Lima, one of the representatives of the Feminist Collective for LocaDevelopment and part of the litigation team of the case before the Inter-American Court.
So what can we do?
On the other hand, Beatriz's story is an invitation to collectively reflect on the various implications that the criminalisation of the right to decide can have on the lives of girls, adolescents, and women. It is important that we identify the state of legislation on this issue in our countries, as well as the existence - or absence - of public policies regarding access to sexual and reproductive health services, including Comprehensive Education on Sexuality, as well as the prevention of unwanted adolescent pregnancies.
We will be attentive to the ruling to be made at the end of this year, hoping that the Inter-American Court provides a ruling that contributes to access to justice and non-repetition for Beatriz and her family, as well as for all women, girls and adolescents from El Salvador and the region. We invite you to follow our social networks and the networks of the #BeatrizCase, so that you can be informed, and join the calls for action to ask for #JusticiaParaBeatriz.
In the time it has taken to read this article 80 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds
Girls Not Brides
Child marriage and health
Child marriage has devastating consequences for girls' health. Explore here key facts and insights on the links between child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation/cutting, HIV and…
Child marriage and maternal health
This brief takes a look at child marriage and the detrimental impact it can have on maternal health.